Rob Manfred was at a business summit put on by Yahoo yesterday when the topic of legalized sports gambling came up. Baseball’s commissioner had this to say:
“There is this buzz out there in terms of people feeling that there may be an opportunity here for additional legalized sports betting,” Manfred said. “We are reexamining our stance on gambling. It’s a conversation that’s ongoing with the owners.”
He went on, in his typical Manfredian way, of clearly signaling his views on the matter in a manner that might allow him to later say he has no set opinion. The upshot, though: everyone’s gambling already, so isn’t it better if it was legalized and regulated? One might surmise that he, like other sports executives like NBA commissioner Adam Silver, who has signaled his eagerness for legalized sports gambling, are also wondering how they could get a piece of that sweet, sweet action, but I suppose that’s a separate discussion.
Major League Baseball’s views have certainly evolved over the years in this regard. In 2012, Major League Baseball — then led by Bud Selig — sued in an effort to block legalized sports wagering in New Jersey, saying it would raise doubts about the integrity of the game. I guess they got all of that sorted out in the past five years.
I tend to think Manfred is right that people are gambling anyway, so why not bring some of it into the light. I’m not personally a gambler and, though many people gamble responsibly and get enjoyment out of it, I tend to think that gambling has a negative net impact on society. Prohibitions, however, tend to be self-defeating and ineffective. Better to regulate a potentially harmful activity in a manner that discourages it than to engage in the folly of thinking people won’t do it if you make it illegal across the board.
As for the baseball-specific angle: the harm of players throwing games like the 1919 White Sox is far less now than it once was given the lower financial incentives in play. Players make a lot more money now and the cost of getting them to risk their careers and integrity over a ballgame or seven seems pretty prohibitive. I’d be more worried about umpires, managers and coaches and, if sports gambling was legalized everywhere, I would hope MLB would be sure to increase its scrutiny of its people’s activities in this regard.
As for baseball gambling in general: have fun, everyone, but know that anyone who bets on a single game or even a single series needs to have their head examined. Baseball is way too random for that.